We get it, NFL. Preventing the regular scrambling of brains is a priority, mostly because the public perception that brute savagery is encouraged and then the gladiators are discarded while crumbling at the young age of 35 isn’t good for business. We shouldn’t talk about that, though, and we also shouldn’t digress and mention that many of those same folks who are outraged rise from their seats after the bone crushing blows.
But as much as I despise sounding like a neanderthal who’s content to fight progress and maintain old school ho-rah ways, football is an inherently violent sport. There will be injuries, and perhaps even life changing ones. Bones will be broken, and muscles will be ripped. These are the accepted facts of participation.
While rules to minimize injuries (like banning hits to the head on a defenseless receiver) are fine and wonderful, eventually those restrictions will progress to the point where core skills are removed from the game, and the dynamics of football will be altered too severely. We may have taken the first step towards that eventuality this afternoon.
At the owners meetings in Arizona, the crown-of-the-helmet rule has been voted on, and it reportedly passed by a wide margin, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Only the Bengals voted against the new rule. The league also eliminated the tuck rule, another major decision that will now be overshadowed by an equally horrible rule. (Of note: the Patriots abstained from the tuck rule vote…also, hahahahaha).
It’s a somewhat cloudy title with even murkier enforcement. Starting in the 2013 season, if an offensive player is out of the tackle box and more than three yards down field he won’t be allowed to lead with his head while trying to power through a defender. Ditto for defenders, who now can’t lead with their helmet when tackling a player outside of the tackle box. Although the crown-of-the-helmet rule applies to all offensive and defensive players (and all ball carriers, including a defender after an interception), running backs will be effected most. If contact is purposefully initiated by the crown of a helmet, the result will be a 15-yard penalty, and repeat offenders will be suspended.
Put even more simply (and visually), this is banned now:
The purpose of the rule is to eliminate the helmet as a weapon. Fair enough, and that’s the same general premise as the defenseless receiver rule which halted the practice of defensive backs turning their bodies into missiles. But the fundamental difference is that a defenseless receiver is, well, defenseless, at least by the definition of the rule. He’s either in the air, or he’s in the act of attempting a catch. He hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to brace for a hit and protect himself.
That’s entirely missing here, and it’s the first of many core problems with the crown-to-the-helmet rule, and the resulting disaster we’ll face this fall because of it. A defender is — by nature of their very title — trying to defend their turf and their territory. They’re fully aware that a running back is approaching, and that a blow may be forthcoming. Regardless of their position, the defender’s sole purpose in that situation is to stop the runner, and if he goes low, the defender then needs to go lower.
I’ve just described a very simple scenario, and no two attempted tackles are the same. Quick reactions are required, and when a false move is made, a cranium-rattling collision often results. But the principle remains: the defender has at least some time to prepare for a hit, and therefore he doesn’t need nearly as much protection.
There are two far greater concerns, the first being the sudden erasing of a standard and instinctive power running move. When the option to run around the defender doesn’t exist, running backs have always tried to run over them. To do that, the head is lowered, and the next few milliseconds then become one of football’s many battles of strength which occur during the rampant chaos of every snap. In its purest form, that’s power running, and now it’s gone.
But the most concerning element will lead to the greatest angst and irate bottling throwing: how the hell are officials going to enforce this rule? The language states that referees will have to assess intent, and essentially determine if head-to-head contact initiated by an offensive player was just a natural part of the play, or if there was intent.
That’s damn near impossible. In the example above, it may be clear enough that Peterson lowered the boom intentionally. But what about this other Peterson special?
And on the other side, who gets the penalty here? Bernard Pollard? The concussed Stevan Ridley? Or is there a penalty? (Update: as more details trickle out we have an answer to this urgent and compelling question, and it turns out the hit below would result in an offsetting foul since both players lowered their heads.)
At best, this will be an unhinged mess. Offensive players — and again, especially running backs –instinctively lower their heads to meet the defender, while defenders in turn lower their pad level to meet them. This has always happened, and it always will. Now officials will be asked to decipher between that instinct, and the other instinct at play, which is to gain as much yardage as possible, or prevent gains. The result will be an 80-yard run by Peterson or Marshawn Lynch or C.J. Spiller or whoever called back because helmets collided.
But the most pressing question? WILL THE NEXT MADDEN GAME STILL HAVE THE TRUCK STICK OH GAWD???